From the track to the boardroom: Lessons from a champion hurdler who's shaking up Silicon Valley
How ClicksMob CEO Chen Levanon applied her competitive spirit to the business world.
How many times have you heard about a former world-class athlete finding a successful post-sports career in the business world? It's more often than you might think, and there's good reason many athletes make quality executives and entrepreneurs. They're used to competition, trying to be a little faster and always striving for more.
Chen Levanon (pictured left), the CEO of Silicon Valley darling ClicksMob, is one of those people. She was an Olympic-level hurdler in Israel, and that continued when she moved to Massachusetts and attended Brandeis University. So when she started taking business classes and working on Wall Street, she saw the similarities.
"It was exactly the same thing, the same feeling that you need to beat everyone, to be the best, and to show off to everyone that you’re the best, and that you barely sleep, because you need to be the best," she told From The Grapevine.
Since Levanon joined ClicksMob in 2012, the San Francisco-based startup has increased its revenues tenfold, and the company has grown from three employees (Levanon and the company's co-founders) to more than 60, over 70 percent of whom are women. The company, which helps bring new users to apps, has become a leader in the competitive market of online engagement.
Levanon competed in the 400-meter hurdles in the European Games in the early 2000s. Her best time during her career was 61.81 seconds. There was a point during her college years where the prospect of training for the Olympics was in her sights, but the business world held more allure for her.
"As a child, it was my goal," she said about the Olympics. "But then ... I went to college, and I understood that I love economics, and I love business. I was like, this is so fascinating." When she took business classes as a pre-med student, she realized that she liked the logic behind it. "It wasn’t hard for me. It was very natural, and I liked the fact that I really understood it." She soon switched majors and was on her way.
In her first job out of college, for the Israeli office of Lehman Brothers, she realized she could lean on the skills she learned on the track. Ironically, she was working so much she could no longer train. "When I went into banking, you work 80 to 120 hours a week, so basically you don’t have any time for a workout."
She left Lehman in 2008, and went to work as a personal assistant to the CEO of an Israeli real estate company. Here, too, the athletic world came into play, as they went to the same gym. "I just told my personal trainer to go to his personal trainer and make the introduction. Then I told him that I know who he is, and I want to meet him, and I want to have breakfast with him, and he said OK," said Levanon.
And what has she learned at ClicksMob? First, that competition is different in the startup world than it is on Wall Street. "You can be good customers and good friends with your competitors," she said. "In sports, for me, competitors are enemies. I need to beat them. Here, I learned that you don’t want to beat them. You want to join them, and you can make partnerships."
Second, the view of women in the business world, and Silicon Valley in particular, is changing. She didn't purposely set out to have her company consist of mostly women, but found that it's helpful in a startup environment. "I totally believe that you need to be a sales person, a marketing person, a multi-tasking person and tech savvy, and I found a lot of those requirements in women."
She hopes that more women go into the STEM fields, but knows it'll be slow going. "It’s going to take some time, but I think we’re in the right direction. We used to not speak about it, and that used to be routine. But now actually, we talk about it. If someone is hiring a woman manager, they're proud about that. It will take a few years, but it’s in the right direction."
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